Book Notes: Work Clean by Dan Charnas

Reading Time: 30 minutes

Work Clean by Dan Charnas

Publisher: Rodale Books

ISBN-13 : 978-1623365929

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Table of Contents

💡 3 Main Ideas

  • Professional kitchens regularly serve meals to customers under very strict timelines. Due to this intense time pressure, professional chefs and kitchens have developed a sophisticated system of organization and work. Modern office workers, by comparison, rarely have a rigorous system for organizing their work. They would benefit from learning the systems and behaviors practiced by chefs in professional kitchens.
  • Mise-en-place is a system of focus and organization that provides a way of working and being intended to produce excellence or products of high quality. The three values of mise-en-place that facilitate excellence are (a) preparation, (b) process, and (c) presence.
  • The work clean system applies the principles of mise-en-place from the kitchen to your life. It is a system of maintaining order through disorder. And its central mode of organization is the Daily Meeze, a 30-minute system of daily planning. “The real work of mise-en-place isn’t being clean, but working clean, keeping that system of organization no matter how fast and furious the work is.” (106)

🔑 Five Key Takeaways

  • Modern day professionals and office workers have much to learn from how professional chefs operate and work in restaurant kitchens. Like chefs, office workers need to develop a system and philosophy of organization that limits waste, reduces chaos, and focuses on producing excellence.
  • Mise-en-place, a French phrase that means “put in place”, has 3 central values: (a) preparation, (b) process, and (c) presence. These three values comprise the essence of working clean.
  • Working clean is about practicing values. It is about developing a system of habits, standards, and behavior in order to produce high quality work in a calm and effective manner. And “true creatives—the people who actually make the food, the art, the architecture, the products, and the services we enjoy—understand that excellence comes from cultivating a craft through dedicated, dogged practice. True artists have a process.” (258)
  • The true goal of the values embodied in mise-en-place is to produce excellence. “What we’re after is excellence, not productivity.”. Excellence is high quality work delivered on a regular basis. Producing high quality work is about being effective, and not merely busy.
  • Start doing a Daily Meeze. A Daily Meeze is a structured time (usually about 30 minutes) set aside to reflect, plan, and prepare for a day’s work. You can do it at the end of your current workday (to give yourself a headstart on the next day’s work), or you can do your planning in the morning. Doing a Daily Meeze allows you to greet the day in a calm, relaxed, and effective manner, because all you need to do is to execute on already-decided tasks and actions. Doing a Daily Meeze enables you to separate the planning from the doing, and to simply focus on doing and executing for the remainder of the day.

✍️ Top Quotes

  • [Working clean] is about practicing values. What are your standards? What habits make you successful? How strongly are you willing to hold on to your regimen of good habits in a world that will tempt you to ditch them, often without any immediate consequence? How much are you willing to keep your own focus despite the chaos around you? (51) [Thomas Keller]
  • Excellence requires commitment; your commitment demands adherence to your mise-en-place, your practice, your system. …. “There are two ways to succeed,” .… “One is to be a genius, and the other is to be better prepared and work harder. (254)
  • This balanced life is the true meaning of working clean. In these pages, clean doesn’t mean neat and tidy. Rather, the meaning of clean is conscious, ordered, prepared, persistent, honest, honorable; the opposite of unconscious, passive, unprepared, lazy, ignorant, dishonest, dishonorable.(244)
  • Pay attention to what you’re doing here. You can learn. It’s repetition. It’s responsibility. It’s self-motivation. It’s interruption. Being ready for all the unknowns….The dividend of these values is excellence. The price is constant attention. “You can never stop asking the question: ‘How can I do something better?’ (309)

📒 Summary

Precisely because the kitchen operates under intense time pressure with perishable resources, it has developed a more refined philosophy of organization. (47)

Professional kitchens operate under intense time pressure. They must serve meals to customers on a regular basis and on strict timelines. Consequently, professional kitchens and chiefs have developed methods and systems of working and being that allow them to deliver excellence on a daily basis.

There are a lot of similarities between professional chefs and modern-day knowledge workers. Especially amid rapid technological innovation and a changing global economy, the career of the modern-day office or knowledge worker has become more like that of a chef – nonlinear and  itinerant; there are few 40-year careers at the same company.

Mise-en-place is a French phrase that means “put in place”. It originates from the culinary profession, where it means to gather and arrange the ingredients and tools needed for cooking (3).

Chefs use mise-en-place to deliver excellence on a deadline. Charnas argues that the values and behaviors fostered by mise-en-place can also be extended to office workers. Mise-en-place is a system for achieving excellence that generates a set of values and behaviors that can be extended and applied outside of the professional kitchen into our personal and working lives.

mise-en-place is a philosophy of how to start things and how to complete things, how to speed up and how to slow down, how to say “yes” to things and “no” to others, and as such, when practiced consciously, mise-en-place can be helpful in creating balance. (9)

The modern day office worker must learn to deal with constant innovation, disruption, and changes in technology and strategy. She must develop resiliency and a set of values and behaviors in order to produce high quality work in spite of chaos and disorder. Unfortunately, office workers rarely receive rigorous training in how to organize and arrange their work.

Precisely because the office doesn’t have to manage the efficiencies of a kitchen, the people who work in an office aren’t obliged to have any philosophy or system at all. (48)

Charnas interviews top chefs to analyze their values, beliefs, and mindsets, and the processes and behaviors they use to deliver quality food consistently. Charnas focuses on ten behaviors or “ingredients” that chefs use to deliver. He argues that these principles of mise-en-place can be extended to deliver similar levels of excellence in a professional environment.

1️⃣First Course: The Power of Working Clean

The Professional Chef, a textbook used at the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) defines mise-en-place as “the preparation and assembly of ingredients, pans, utensils, and plates or serving pieces needed for a particular dish or service period.” (10)


Working with mise-en-place means working with focus. Having focus enables you to save time, energy, resources, be calmer and less anxious, get into flow, and become more organized and prepared.

  • “By being organized, you will be more efficient. By being more efficient, you will have more time in your day. By having more time in your day, you will be more relaxed in your day; you will be able to accomplish the task at hand in a clear, concise, fluid motion.” (14) [Chef Dwayne LiPuma]

Focus requires Presence

Be where you are. Ensure that each task you’re working on gets your full and utmost attention.

  • Presence manifests… as focus and commitment, turning work into a form of meditation. …When sitting, just sit. When cooking, just cook. Care for nothing but the work when you work. (24)


Chaos is what results when we work without mise-en-place. We are anxious, disorganized, late, unreliable, and careless. We develop poor relationships with our friends, family, and colleagues.

  • [The worker without mise-en-place] doesn’t plan enough. He doesn’t consider his schedule. He’s flustered by distractions. He leaves projects lying around half-done. He doesn’t arrange or maintain his personal space. He tunes people out. He leaves incoming communication unanswered and outgoing communication unconfirmed. He panics and rushes. He repeats his mistakes. (48)

Most office workers have never been formally taught or trained on how to organize, manage, and conduct their workflow, ie., “how to prepare, how to create order, and how to prioritize the work at hand.” (44)

The Digital Age has Hastened Chaos and Overwhelm

  • The digital age was supposed to quicken our pace and lighten our load but it has largely done the opposite. The benefits of the tools that allow us to work faster have been overshadowed by the distractions of an Internet-driven information deluge, by the temptation to multitask, and by the increasing workloads brought on by job consolidation. (45)

To combat overload, we need more than just tactics and techniques. We need a more holistic way of understanding our priorities and what is important. We need guiding principles and a philosophy to understand how to “handle the mental, emotional, and physical challenges and resistance we all encounter” (45) when we try to organize and prioritize.

The Office versus the Kitchen

Similarities between the Kitchen and the Office

  • a deluge of tasks under tremendous deadline pressure and often inadequate resources. (46)
  • a constant stream of inputs and requests, too little time to process them, and many tasks demanding simultaneous attention. (46)

Differences between the Kitchen and the Office

differences between kitchen and office

The 3 Values of Mise-en-Place

Mise-en-place has 3 central values:

  • Preparation
  • Process
  • Presence

The true goal of these values is to produce excellence.


  • A chef must plan and think ahead. Cooking cannot occur without prep work.
  • Similarly, in life, we need to prepare and plan ahead, to set ourselves up for success as much as possible, so that we are not as flustered and anxious when unexpected things occur.


  • In order to produce excellence, one must constantly be refining one’s process, seeking ways to improve and become better. Excellence arises from constantly streamlining your process and developing a more perfect workflow.
  • Preparation and planning alone are not enough to create excellence. Chefs must also execute that prepared plan in an excellent way. So they ensure excellent execution by tenacious pursuit of the best process to do just about everything. (53)
  • Success is doing a job right once and then repeating it. The best chefs are always perfecting their processes. (53)


One must develop mindfulness and awareness; engaging deeply and becoming one with your work, developing and cultivating boundaries between focus and distraction. You must also be aware of your colleagues and their work, engaging and collaborating deeply with them. Awareness must be both internal and external.

  • When we work, we put our all into it. When we play, we don’t hang on to work. Wherever we are, we’re there. (54)

2️⃣Second Course: The 10 Ingredients or Behaviors of Working Clean

The 3 main values of mise-en-place are expressed through 10 different ingredients, ie. the behaviors that make up mise-en-place.

1st Ingredient: Planning is Prime

Planning gives you room to breathe; you can relax knowing that you’ve planned ahead and set yourself up for success. It allows you to calmly “greet the day”, knowing that your time and priorities for the day are already accounted for. Without planning, “we make ourselves vulnerable to chaos.”(64)

Planning is not external or marginal to your life. It doesn’t delay or interrupt your work.  It is an integral part of your life and work. Planning gives life and time back to you. When we don’t plan,  “we neglect to handle the expected and thus have little bandwidth for the unexpected.” (64)

The essence of working clean with time is to:

(1) determine our daily actions.

(2) order those actions in sequence.

Planning entails two simple tools: a calendar and a to-do list. The to-do list lays out all the actions we need to take, and the calendar places those actions in a block of time (what to do and when to do them).

Plan First

Planning must precede your actual work. Planning takes time, but it enables you to become more effective and efficient.

  • You plan what you can so you can deal with what you can’t. (58)

Be Honest with Time

Be accurate and honest with time; know how long a task or meeting will take to complete. Allow time before and after meetings, to both prepare and take notes for further action.

Be realistic about what you can accomplish in a given period of time. Prioritize what is important, and kill off the non-essential.

Schedule Tasks

Sequence your actions properly. Decide which actions and tasks to prioritize and accomplish first, and when to do them.

Plan Ahead/Plan Backward

Visualize a desired outcome, and work backwards to determine the sequence of tasks and behaviors needed to achieve that outcome. Think ahead or visualize the desired outcome, but also plan backwards.

  • The contemporary chef must stand on both sides of time: in the present, making projections into the future to calculate needed resources; and in the future, counting the minutes and hours backward to the present to calculate needed time. (63)
  • “You know how to start and finish projects following a deadline.” (64)

Discover Your Meeze Point

Your Meeze Point is the optimal number of actions (tasks and appointments) that you can put on your daily task list before you begin to overload yourself.

That number becomes your normal daily action threshold. It helps you figure out how many things you can get done before you begin to get overwhelmed.

  1. Select 3 actions or tasks to accomplish for the day.
    1. An action can be large or small in scope, or an appointment.
  2. Schedule those actions on your calendar
  3. At the end of the day, log how many of your 3 actions you accomplished
  4. If you completed all 3 tasks, you can up the number of tasks up to 4 the next day.
  5. Keep increasing the number of daily tasks until you begin to consistently fail to accomplish your tasks. You’ve found your Meeze Point.
    1. Your Meeze Point serves as a guide for the maximum number of actions you can consistently schedule to reliably accomplish each day.

Habits: Behaviors to Repeat

Create a Daily Meeze

  • A Daily Meeze is a structured time (usually about 30 minutes) set aside to reflect, plan, and prepare for a day’s work.
  • Many people do their daily meeze at the end of their current workday, to give them a headstart on the next day’s work (“tomorrow begins today”). Others like to do their planning in the morning.
  • It is a personal mise-en-place for your workday, a time to (a) clean your physical and virtual spaces, (b) clear your mind, and (c) plot your day. (69)

Schedule Your Actions

  • An Action is any task or appointment you plan to do during the day.
  • Schedule all actions in your calendar to give yourself an accurate representation of all the things that require your time and presence.

Have the End in Mind for Your Projects

  • When planning a project, you should always do so with its end in mind. Visualize what a successful project outcome would look like, then plan backwards from it.

Get There Early

Arrive everywhere 15 minutes early.

Recipe for Success: Commit to being honest with time. Plan daily. (74)

2nd Ingredient: Arranging Spaces, Perfecting Movements

You can be efficient and effective with the moves you make when your work space and tools are properly arranged. Be smart about your workspace and how you use it.

  • We arrange spaces to remove resistance or friction, to be able “to move through our work like oil on glass” (89).

Arrange your space

  • a chef’s tools and ingredients must be arranged in a precise, predictable, economical way to allow a cook’s motions to be precise, predictable, and economical. (79)
  • the arrangement of ingredients and tools needs to be constant from day to day, so that the cook can learn and internalize the movements in her space. (79)
  • Arrangements should make sense both for the cook’s body and for the ingredients and tools she uses. (80)

Train and restrain your movements

  • The point of arranging spaces is not beauty, but to allow movements to be free, small, rhythmic, and most important, automatic. (81)
  • Repeated often enough, a movement will train our brains in a process called automaticity that allows us to execute that movement without consciously thinking about it. (81)
  • The Magic Triangle is the holistic assembly line of any craftsperson, a path in and out of any task. (83)

Use all movements

Make balanced movements. Take a plate of food out to a guest, bring a dirty plate back to the kitchen. Use both hands, both sides of an action, and don’t waste your movements. Try to use one movement to get two things done.

  • Every day, chefs cultivate the use of both sides of the body, both sides of a space, and both sides of a motion. (86)

Chain tasks

While you’re handling task A, a small part of your mind is looking ahead to task B. It’s a form of dynamic planning where you’re thinking ahead while executing. It’s about anticipating or thinking about your next action. The goal is to minimize transition times, and to always know the next action or next thing to do.

Many distractions occur during transition times, when we have completed one task, and need to think about what to do next. Dynamic planning enables you to reduce or minimize those potentially distracting transitions and always have a next action on hand.

  • some cooks refer to it as task chaining or task stacking:
    • While cooks are handling task A, their minds envision task B. As a result, as they finish task A, their body begins to move toward task B. While they are on task B, they think about task C. (86)
  • … you begin anticipating your next move and the one after that, so that when one task is done, you don’t waste time trying to figure out what follows. You move seamlessly between activities… (87)
  • The crucial, seconds-saving elimination of lag time between actions is what Dwayne LiPuma calls flow: an internalization of the sequence and order of tasks, derived from an active mind that is always thinking one or two steps ahead. (87)

Habits: Behaviors to Repeat

Create Checklists

Checklists are an “external brain”. They externalize movements and free the brain to think about other things. Checklists help us to execute on complicated processes that we must repeat without failing.

  1. Select a task, errand, or routine that you do often.
  2. Break it down into 10 steps or fewer.
  3. Determine the kind of checklist you need:
    1. Read-Do: read the checklist item, then do the item [aka preflight checklist]
    2. Do-Confirm: do all the items and then use the checklist afterward to confirm [aka post-flight checklist]
  4. Test your checklist by using it 3 times.
  5. Each time you finish the checklist, note any additions or modifications you realized you need to make.

Checklists are especially useful during transition times (e.g from one project to another), prep times, and daily routines.

Recipe for Success: Commit to setting your station and reducing impediments to your movements and activities. Remove friction. (99)

3rd Ingredient: Cleaning as You Go

The act of cleaning and maintaining a clean space creates an optimal state of mind for cooking and working. It ensures that your environment is always clean and optimal for success and creativity. Cleaning produces a virtuous cycle of productivity and creativity.

Work clean

Cleaning as you go is about making a commitment to keeping order even through disorder.  It’s not only about being clean, it’s about staying or working clean.

We waste time when we don’t work clean. We waste time searching for loose papers, sifting through email, looking for misplaced items or tools, and being late, distracted, or careless.

  • It is not enough to find a “right place” for everything. Cooks can’t use a static system; the system must move. …So the real work of mise-en-place isn’t being clean, but working clean: keeping that system of organization no matter how fast and furious the work is. (106)

Clear your mind by clearing your space

Cleaning has mental, psychological, and spiritual benefits.

  • Chefs see a direct correlation not only between the condition of one’s station and one’s mind, but also between the tolerance of dirt and the tolerance of distractions, and between the disposition of oneself to cleaning and to responsibility in general. (109)

Come to zero

  • After using your tools and ingredients, replace things where you found them, in their proper resting places. Resist the temptation to keep things in sight or out in the open just because you “might” need them “soon” or “someday”
  • In yoga, practitioners develop a habit of coming back to a neutral posture between each exercise. We’ll call this neutral state zero point. (112)
  • Create a zero point status for your tools, instruments, and resources.
    • On a regular basis everyday, reset your workspace and ensure that all your tools are in their proper resting places, and that nothing is left in disorder or out of place.
    • In the digital realm, zero point means closing windows, folders, or applications. (112)

Habits: Behaviors to Repeat

Practice Project Hygiene

Create clear boundaries between your projects. Put an old project away before beginning a new one.

Close your email program while working on a task. The interruptions from your email distract you and steal your attention away from your current task.

Have a repertoire of cleaning tactics


Straightening the items on your desk, especially during transition times, is like a beginner’s cleaning practice.(115). It’s a good way to physically and mentally reset your space and mind before you begin the next task.

  • Straightening creates quick, visible structure and reveals things that would have otherwise remained hidden. (116).
  • Kichiri [straightening]
    • Kichiri means “exactly.” (115).
    • In the Japanese culinary tradition, the apprentice, or oi-mawashi, must demonstrate proficiency in kichiri, or making things perfectly straight, with objects at parallel or right angles to each other.
  • You create visual order out of disorder. (115).

Knolling [bringing order through organization]

  1. Scan your environment for materials, tools, books, etc., which are not in use.
  2. Put away everything not in use. If you aren’t sure, leave it out.
  3. Group all “like” objects.
  4. Align or square all objects to either the surface they rest on, or the studio itself
Photo by Jakob Owens on Unsplash
Photo by Jakob Owens on Unsplash

Recipe for Success: Commit to maintaining your system. Always be cleaning. (118)

4th Ingredient: Making First Moves

Chefs make first moves.

Not all times have the same exact value. Some moments in time or in a project are more important than others. First moments count more than later ones.

How you start a project, for instance, is an extremely important moment that dictates how you will finish or execute the project or task.

  • The first few moments of your day or minutes of your project are crucial. They matter more than any others. A minute spent now may save 10 minutes, 20 minutes later on. (123)

To set yourself up properly for success, you have to make first moves.

  • Without the first move, none of the other moves can happen. (135)

Move Now/Act Now/Just Start

  • When the time is on you, start, and the pressure will be off. (122)
  • The present has incalculably more value than the future. Starting is, in effect, a shortcut. (135)
  • An action taken now has immeasurably more impact than a step taken later because the reactions to that action have more time to perpetuate. (123)
  • Do it now, don’t wait for later. (136)

Make Visual Markers or Reminders

  • Set visual reminders or marker objects of the things that need to be done.
  • Getting a pan onto the stove is one way to make that first move. Placing raw ingredients on a platter or plate or cutting board is another. (124)

Move in Dual Time

Cultivate a two-dimensional concept of time. It’s important to make time for creative or deep or immersive work. But process work is also important. Make first moves on both levels.

Immersive Time

  • Tasks or projects that occur during immersive time are wholly executed by you, and occur largely independent of external processes and other people.
  • Immersive time requires your full presence – mind and body. It aligns with hands-on, creative, or deep work work – work in which we are fully engaged.
  • Immersive time is worth its face value. Five minutes of my energy now equals 5 minutes of my energy later. (125)
  • Immersive tasks can be delayed, but if left unscheduled for too long, they become blocks to your work and career. (131)

Process Time

  • Process time comprises tasks and projects that don’t need your continued presence, but need you to start or maintain them. These tasks and projects are hands-off in nature, but are dependent on and linked to external processes.
    • Anything that needs your input or feedback on a task or project to keep it going.
  • Hands-off, process time aligns with management work – engaging with external objects, processes, or people. (125)
  • Process time includes replies, quick decisions, short personal interactions, or small errands, delegation.
  • Process tasks are the little management “noodges” that keep projects and people around you going. (128)
  • Process time unlocks work on your behalf; delaying process tasks will delay their benefits to you and others. (129)
  • …some small and tedious tasks have the potential to launch powerful processes—unleashing huge amounts of energy, time, and resources—as long as [we] start those tasks first. (126)

Benefits of making first moves

  1. Serves as a placeholder or a mark
    1. a mark put in the right physical or digital place ensures that we won’t forget an action and can subtly tilt us toward the task to be done. (127)
  2. Creates momentum
    1. making the first move creates an initial staging area for a project, a foundation necessary for further progress. If you can’t act in full now, make one small move toward completion. (127)
  3. Results in multiplication
    1. Acting now can save you disproportionally more time or create disproportionately higher benefits in the future
    2. Mastering the art of compounding time requires a fluency in time’s dual nature. Making first moves, cultivating a sense of immersive and process time, means acting immediately to set processes in motion and multiply your power and productivity. (128)

Schedule time blocks of immersive and process time

  1. Always figure out whether tasks require immersive or process time.
  2. Begin each day with 30 minutes of scheduled process time – starting, unlocking, and unblocking the work of others. (132)
    • Use your process time for communication, requests, etc
  3. Alternate blocks of process and immersive work throughout your day.
    • The more management responsibilities you have, the more process time you need in your day. (132)

Maintain a moving and marking mentality

Cultivate a system for moving on tasks immediately or marking them for later.

  • Carry a notebook and pen with you everywhere. Besides your smartphone, have a quick and easy alternate way of writing things down quickly and flagging tasks.
  • Write down all your tasks and action items.
  • Do small, easy, or quick tasks immediately, especially during process time.
    • eg. If only a quick, easy email response is required, do it immediately and move it off your plate.
  • Mark tasks in 2 ways:
    • either directly onto your schedule
    • onto your Action list for ordering and scheduling later, during your Daily Meeze.
  • Process or schedule all outstanding action items during your 30 minute Daily Meeze.

Email Flagging System

Flag emails to mark them for action and to more easily move on those action items.

  1. Scan your inbox for emails with action items.
  2. Flag those emails.
  3. Archive all the emails in the inbox, even the flagged ones.
    1. Your e-mail inbox is now empty.
  4. Now check the flagged folder for urgent items to act on immediately.
  5. Keep any flagged item you don’t have time to address in the flagged folder for your Daily Meeze, where you’ll either schedule the item or put it on your Action list.
  6. Unflag an email once you’ve extracted the action item from it.

Recipe for Success: Commit to using time to your benefit. Start now. (136)

5th Ingredient: Finishing Actions

Finish up a previous task before you start a new one. Commit to completing your tasks and projects. Get into the habit of finishing what you start. Have a delivery mentality.

  • A dish that is 90 percent finished has the same worth as a dish that is zero percent finished. (139)

Commit to delivering

  • A bunch of dishes in various stages of completion are useless until at least one of them is finished. Ninety percent done is still zero percent done from the perspective of the customer. So a cook must develop a delivery mind-set. (140)

Avoid the hidden costs of stopping

  • Individual workers can get more work accomplished, and faster, if they do the same action or job repeatedly. (140)
  • If a worker stops, the whole line stops. We can measure the cost of the stoppage not only in minutes lost during a pause, but also in minutes spent ramping up production again.(140)
  • she will be more efficient if she does one job at a time—to aggregate alike actions—than if she stops and does something else, skipping from one action to another. Momentum and aggregation are key rationales for continuing with an action until it is done. (140)

Finish to clear workspace and headspace

  • An action once finished does not need attention or memory. (141)
  • An unfinished action still needs both to be completed. (141)
  • An accumulation of unfinished actions creates a mental clutter and a brain drain. (141)
  • Every time you deliver, you get that thing out of your life.” (143)

Begin with the end in mind

  • When you start a project, ask one question: How and when will I finish? (142)
  • “Starting” is less about doing everything immediately and more about creating a triage system to prioritize current and future actions. (142)
  • “Finishing” is not so much about completing everything and more about not being distracted by the periodic “starting” of other things. (142)
  • “Finishing” can also be stopping a project while it’s incomplete but taking just an extra few seconds to wrap it up for resumption later so as to not leave loose ends hanging. (142)
    • Avoid orphaned tasks – tasks that haven’t been tied up in the easiest possible form to be resumed later. They consume mental and physical space. Make it as easy as possible to resume work and finish later.
  • Excellence is quality delivered. (143)

Habits: Behaviors to Repeat

Why We Stop And Strategies For Continuing

Many of us fail to finish because we fail to continue. We stop projects halfway or within sight of the finish line. We need strategies to help us to keep going until we finish.

  1. Fatigue
    • Discern fatigue from fear.
    • If afraid, slow down, take small steps, but keep moving, even if slowly. Just don’t stop.
    • If tired, take a break or pause. The solution for fatigue is rest
  2. Ambition
    • We may have too many grandiose plans to settle down to actually execute. We want to move on to bigger and better projects without taking the time to actually execute on our current task or project.
    • Narrow your scope and ambitions and settle down to work.
  3. Scatteredness
    • We can’t prioritize what’s important; we’re distracted and disorganized.
    • The solution for confusion is to focus
  4. Overconfidence
    • Magical thinking: we overestimate our personal capability, and underestimate the time and energy needed to execute.
    • The solution is to be more honest with time.

Tie up a Task to Finish Later

When you can’t finish a task, tie it up so that you can easily resume it again later.

  1. Collect all the materials for the project and keep them in one place until you resume.
  2. Jot down any thoughts that are at the top of your mind that you want to remember.
  3. Schedule your session to resume the work (or set a reminder now to schedule one later).
  4. Communicate your progress to partners or stakeholders to assess what remains to be done and whether help is available now or upon resumption.

Always be Unblocking

  • For every major goal or project, ask the question:
    • What’s stopping me from moving forward? What has stopped the process? (152)

Combat Perfectionism

Set deadlines. Deadlines compel excellence.

  • There are 2 kinds of perfectionists:
    • those who quit their projects
    • those who keep working on projects forever
  • Excellence is not about creating something of the highest quality; it’s delivering something of the highest quality, with all the constraints that delivery entails – deadlines, expectations, contingencies, feedback. (153)
  • For the chef, the deadline is integral to quality. Without delivery, there’s no feedback, severing the improvement loop that creates excellence. Excellence is quality delivered. (154)

Chunk Time

  • Break large projects into smaller, more finishable, chunks. It’s easier to work on smaller tasks because we can more easily visualize the end.
    • Set benchmarks for similar or recurring tasks.
      • Know how long it takes to write an essay or edit a video, or produce a report, and use those benchmarks to better estimate your time.
  • Build your pause or stop points with intentionality.
  • Work intently toward those points.

Take Intentional Breaks

Be intentional and deliberate about how and when you take breaks. Creativity is non-linear, and taking breaks can be restorative. We need mental, physical, and social breaks in order to rest and restore our creativity and focus.

Recipe for success: Commit to delivering. When a task is nearly done, finish it. Always be unblocking.

6th Ingredient: Slowing down to speed up

Paradoxically, slowing down enables you to work faster. You make silly mistakes when you’re rushing. Doing things slowly and thoroughly makes you more effective.

  • Taking the time to slow down and analyze a complex task—even though it may feel like a waste of time and a pain in the ass while you are doing the analysis—will save you time in the long term. (169)

Don’t run

Plan ahead, move calmly and smoothly.

  • If you’re running, it’s because you aren’t prepared. If you’re running, you’re wasting energy. If you’re running, you’re not thinking. (163) [Chef David McCue]

Don’t panic

  • Don’t rush; when you rush, your movements become sloppy. Don’t panic; when you panic, you forget things. When you find yourself rushing or panicking or both, just stop. Breathe. (163)
  • Look around you. Think about where you are and where you need to be. Think of the next step to get you there and take that step, slowly. (163)
  • Sometimes it’s the panic about the work that’s in your way, not the work itself. (163)

Put Precision before Speed

Doing things slower:

  1. Allows for smoother, more precise movements
  2. Enables the mind to break movements down into smaller component parts

This enables more finesse and precision.

  • Slowness is the only way a cook can access quality velocity. (164)

Habits: Behaviors to Repeat

Slow down to kill procrastination

Instead of stopping work entirely when the urge to procrastinate occurs, simply continue working, but very slowly.

  • tasks become more like a game or a moving meditation. (170)
  • The more the resistance, the slower you move. But don’t disengage. You can use this slow-but-don’t-stop technique for just about anything that you don’t want to do (171)

Make panic and crisis checklists

Create checklists for complicated routines and tasks. Then, when you need to execute those tasks, you simply follow the checklists in a calm manner, instead of panicking and forgetting how to accomplish them.

Cleaning Reflex

  • In times of stress or panic, clean your workstation—your desk and/ or your computer—so that your visual field is clear. (173)
  • Put things where they belong. Close apps. Keep your hands moving, slow, slower. (173)

Recipe for Success: Commit to working smoothly and steadily. Use physical order to restore mental order. Don’t rush. (174)

7th Ingredient: Open Eyes and Ears

To have open eyes and ears is to be focused, but also open and aware of your external environment. Immersive work requires concentration and focus. But, you also need to be aware of your external environment, important messages, the demands of colleagues, etc.

Don’t Space Out

Concentration is important, but you should never be so tuned out that you can’t respond to important messages or signals in your external environment.

Tune Your Senses

Train yourself to be able to determine the signal from the noise.

Distractions occur in 3 main ways:

  1. Digital multitasking
    • interruptions and distractions from technology
  2. Digital mobility:
    • Mobile devices blurring boundaries between work and home
    • remote work
  3. The Open Office:
    • lack of privacy, more noise, more interruption leading to reduced productivity and diminished morale

Habits: Behaviors to Repeat

Personal Negotiations

  • make and negotiate simple requests, even if we can’t control people’s responses to them. (188)
    • Ask people to honor a “Focusing: Do Not Disturb” card on your desk, wall, door, or computer monitor. (188)
    • Ask colleagues to contact you only during business hours. (188)
    • Use email auto-responders to set expectations; can use them even when not on vacation to get some time “off-the-grid” to work deeply.

Recipe for Success: Commit to balancing internal and external awareness. Stay alert. (190)

8th Ingredient: Call and Callback

Call and call back is a system of communication and confirmation. When you receive information, confirm to the sender that you’ve received it.

  • You give people information when they need it. When you receive communication, you let folks know you got it. (191)

Confirm communication

Don’t let a message go into an black void of silence. Let the sender know that you have received and understood their message, whether verbal or written.

Demand specifics

Use active listening to build trust. Active listening or “mirroring” is the process of repeating or paraphrasing communication from someone else to ensure that you’ve really heard and understood what they’re saying.

  • Active listening verifies to the sender that his message has been received; it gives him the opportunity to catch an error or omission early; and it helps the receiver retain that information better, taking the words “into the body.” (199)

Demand brevity

Time is precious. Don’t waste words. When communicating, get straight to the point. No need to be rude, but try to be as clear and efficient as possible when communicating.

  • Pare away everything but the most vital information. (200)

Reduce meetings

Reduce the number and frequency of meetings

Treat your time and that of your colleagues like a precious commodity.

Rules of Thumb

  • the fewer streams [of communication], the better.
  • “The best way to manage communication is to contain it. The point is to give yourself fewer channels and fewer reasons to check them.” (205)
    • Consolidate email browsers and addresses
    • Reduce the number of social media and communications services you use
    • Be selective about the number of note-taking and task management programs you use.
    • Reduce or disable voicemail
  • Communication should be clear, concise, and respectful.
  • Coworkers should have a common language.
  • Communication should be confirmed with specificity, and reconfirmed when needed, for accuracy and memory.

Habits: Behaviors to Repeat

Confirm Essential Communication

  • Not all communication requires callback, but essential communication does. (205)
  • Emails especially are highly subject to misunderstanding. Especially for important messages, respond and confirm that there is mutual understanding.

Confirmation is only the first of four levels of callback.

  1. Confirmation – a simple reply to acknowledge receipt of a piece of communication
    • (“Got it!”)
  2. Routing – a reply to delay, direct, deflect, defer, or refer the sender or issue in question
    • (“Will reply by tomorrow.”)
  3. Simple answer – requiring nothing more than a yes, no, or a specific piece of information
    • (“I will meet you at 5:00 p.m.”)
  4. Detailed answer – any reply requiring more than about a minute of your time

Use Action Language

  • Distinguish discussion from requests for action
  • Direct those around you by asking the right kinds of questions:
    • What’s the consensus here?
    • What’s the takeaway?
    • What’s the next step?
    • Who needs help?
    • How can I help?

Recipe for Success: Commit to confirming and expecting confirmation of essential communication. Call back. (210)

9th Ingredient: Inspect and Correct

Always evaluate your work. Create a system where you can learn from your mistakes. When possible, ensure that there are multiple sets of eyes on important tasks and projects. Be coachable, seek coaching and seek to be a coach yourself.

  • We need the means to refine our methods and product, and to incorporate the knowledge gained from our failures. (222)

Most corporate or creative workers don’t have a coach or mentor who cares about their continued education or their growth. We must create our own systems of continued learning and growth.

  • If we don’t have mentors, the responsibility falls on us to create a personal culture of checks and balances, of inspection and correction, so we can work clean with feedback. (222)

Remain vigilant

  • A restaurant must always train and coach its staff because their training has a direct impact on a restaurant’s success or failure. Good restaurants foster a learning, teaching, and developing mentality for its staff.

Submit to critique

Be a teachable person. Receiving feedback can be difficult but it is essential to becoming a better person and a better professional.

  • As a system of ongoing education dedicated to becoming better at one’s craft, inspect and correct requires humility, a commitment to submission. (217)

Learn to be productively self-critical

Learn to evaluate your own work objectively. Internalize what meticulous execution looks like, and strive to achieve it in your own work.

Fix and Use Mistakes

Don’t wallow in guilt over failure. Use setbacks and failures as an opportunity to improve and grow. Learn to be resourceful and transform your mistakes into new opportunities.

Calculate the cost of compromise.

Learn when to compromise and when to hold fast. Know when to let things go. Know which tasks can be delayed or discarded, and which ones to work on.

  • If perfectionism is the quest for quality at the expense of delivery, then settling for less is the quest for delivery at the expense of quality. Excellence itself is a compromise between the two: quality delivered. (220)

Set Standards

Know what excellent work looks like. Have a clear vision of what you consider to be excellent work. You can’t correct yourself if you don’t know what good work looks like. Set standards for your work.

Count Mistakes

  • For one day, keep count of all the errors you make, big or small.
  • For each error, write the consequence or result beside it.
  • At the end of the day, for each item, write one action you could have taken before the mistake to prevent it or make that error less likely.

Habits: Behaviors to Repeat

Use the Buddy System

  • Wherever possible, grab a second set of eyes and ears for your important work. Cultivate relationships with people who can give you a fresh perspective. e.g. bosses, mentors, colleagues, employees, etc

Use Self-Editing Techniques

Get some distance between you and your own work in order to be able to objectively edit and improve it. Some techniques include:

  • Change your environment
  • Bring different senses into the mix, eg., read your work aloud
  • Create an inner dialogue. eg. by assuming another persona
  • Use software, apps, etc like Hemingway, and Grammarly

Recipe for Success: Commit to coaching yourself, to being coached, and to coaching others. Evaluate yourself.

10th Ingredient: Total Utilization

Don’t be wasteful. With your time, your energy, your money, your resources, and other people.

As you work, try to ensure that waste is reduced as much as possible in four interrelated dimensions – space, motion (or energy), time, and resources (including ingredients, money, and people).

Completely eliminating waste is impossible, but it can serve as an aspirational target.

  • Ingredients were not to be wasted. Energy was not to be wasted. Time was not to be wasted. Life was not to be wasted. Everything counted.(236)

Conserve space to conserve motion to conserve time to conserve resources to conserve the business.

  • Conserving time also liberates human energy, both mental and physical. Being able to work in compressed time gives us more of the one thing we cannot manufacture. (238)
  • [conserving resources] cultivates more respect for ingredients, which in turn promotes the cultivation of a better product. Saving money in this sense saves work and life. (238)
  • [employers] spend much of their time finding, training, and retaining staff… It’s hard to find good people, and it’s tougher to lose them. (238)

Conserve yourself

You yourself are a unique and finite resource. Practice presence and establish a healthy sense of work-life balance and boundaries.

Your life is composed of the self, your work, and your family. Establish practices that give fair treatment to each segment of your life.

Be where you are. When you are at work, be at work. When with your family and friends, think of nothing else.

Let Go

You can’t be perfect all the time everywhere. Allow mess in some parts of your life. Not everything needs to be controlled or perfect.

  • One cannot be so controlled for most of the day and not anticipate the urge to be a little out of control. For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. (243)
  • Mess is the cure for some of order’s ills, like obsessiveness and rigidity. And order is the cure for some of mess’s ills, like laziness and indifference. There is a time and a place for everything: A time to work and a time to play. A time to plan and a time to abandon our plans. And yes, a time to clean and a time to let things accumulate. The world’s mise-en-place encompasses all. (244)

Habits: Behaviors to Repeat

Establish downtime routines, ie. things to do while waiting or otherwise in transition

Establish routines for when you’re distracted, or for when you know you’ll be passing through a particular place.

Recipe for Success: Commit to valuing space, time, energy, resources, and people. Waste nothing. (253)

3️⃣Third Course: Working Clean as a Way of Life

The Commitments of Working Clean

Committing to Values

Value #1: Commit to preparation with a 30-minute daily planning session

  • Spend 30 minutes every day doing the Daily Meeze
    • Clear your workstation
    • Plan for the day ahead

Value #2: Commit to a process that makes you better.

  • Commit to the process of improvement. This includes:
    • Following the schedule you’ve made for yourself
    • Following through on tasks
    • Using checklists
    • Cultivating better techniques
    • Abandoning habits and processes that make you worse

Value #3: Commit to being present in whatever you do.

Be fully engaged in all your pursuits, personal or professional. Be open, yet mindful, deliberate, and intentional in your pursuits.

  • Be focused, yet open and aware of your external environment and circumstances
  • Be deliberate. Have integrity. When you decide to do something, get it done.
  • Establish boundaries between your work and personal lives.
  • Be present. Wherever you are, be there.

The Work Clean System

Actions: Your Ingredients [Tasks & Appointments]

  • Actions are the things we do in life – thinking, writing, email, errands, appointments, meetings, chores, etc.
  • Tasks and appointments are both actions.

Missions: Your Menu [Projects/Goals]

  • Missions are the goals or big tasks you want to accomplish. They’re usually large in scope, typically lasting a year or more. A goal is accomplished by undertaking a series of actions.
  • To create your Mission list, divide your life into 3 areas – Work, Family, Self – and list the things you want to achieve in each area within the next year.
  • Have only about 10 active Missions at a time.

Frontburners and Backburners: Your Recipes: [Next Actions]

  • Every Mission requires a list and sequence of actions, ie. a recipe, to see it through. Every goal or project has a set of tasks, a sequence and flow of actions required for its completion.
  • To figure out what action to take next to complete a mission:
    • Queue all possible tasks necessary to complete a goal
    • Focus only on the next action or task in the sequence for achieving each goal
    • After completing a task in a project, you should always know what the next move to make is.
  • Frontburner: the first Action needed to move forward on a Mission. All the following Actions are Backburners.
  • Backburners: the following tasks for each Mission, the ones to which you’ll be pivoting after the Frontburners are finished.
  • When you accomplish any Frontburner, the Backburner behind it slides up immediately to take its place as Frontburner, and so on, until that Mission is accomplished. (273)

Routines: Your Mise-en-Place

  • Routines are recurring “time buckets” in your schedule, into which you put Actions. They are essentially an empty template of your ideal week.
  • Types of Routines:
    • Personal Time: health & fitness, hygiene, planning (Daily Meeze)
    • Meeting Time: Appointments, conferences, and phone calls—whether recurring or one-off
    • Immersive Time: for deep, focused creative work
    • Process Time: checking emails, conversations, consulting with colleagues to keep projects moving forward, processing paperwork, doing small errands

A Day of Working Clean

Evening: Preparation (via the Daily Meeze)

Step 1: Clean your station (approximately 15 minutes)

  1. Empty and log physical inputs (wallet, bag, purse, sticky notes, loose papers, desktop, notebook, etc.)
  2. Clear and log digital inputs (email, voice mail, texts, instant messages, note-taking software, social media, digital stickies, digital photos, web browsers)
  3. Set the table: straighten and organize everything to reduce visual and mental clutter

Step 2: Sharpen your tools (approximately 5 minutes)

  1. Adjust your calendar.
    1. Look at your schedule’s past 24 hours, and reschedule the appointments that didn’t happen or tasks that didn’t get done to later in the week
  2. Adjust your Action (Task or To-Do) List
    1. Assign each incoming Action item to a Mission.
    2. Make sure that each Mission or Project has an assigned next action (Frontburner)

Step 3: Plan your day (approximately 10 minutes)

  1. Make a list of the Actions and Routines already scheduled for tomorrow along with the other Actions and Routines you want to add to tomorrow.
  2. Identify which Actions are immersive (longer, requiring 30 minutes to several hours) and which are process (quicker, can be grouped together).
  3. Ballpark how many hours you have available for new Actions and Routines.
    1. Be honest with your time, and don’t overschedule.
  4. Schedule new Actions and Routines on your calendar, aiming to
    1. Maximize the number of Frontburners
    2. Balance immersive and process time
    3. Stay under your Meeze Point

Step 4: Gather your resources

  1. Gather the resources you need for the next day:
  • load up the bag you’ll be taking with you tomorrow, check the next day’s weather, lay out your clothes for the next day the night before, etc.
  • Do whatever you can do to give yourself as little as possible to plan or do the next morning.

Note: Make moves after your Meeze.

  • Don’t execute any Action items during your Meeze. Just flag and log, and handle your Action items afterward.

Morning: Process

  1. Greet the day. Wake up early.
    • Leave enough time in the morning to nurture yourself with Personal Routines (health, hygiene, fitness, etc).
  2. Morning Check-in.
    • Check your schedule.
    • Check your vital inputs (e.g. email or corporate instant message). Has anything come up overnight that might require a change in plans?
    • Run checklists (usually mental or mnemonic)
      1. e.g. wallet, keys, phone
  3. Getting There.
    • Arrive early, calm, and prepared. Allow yourself enough time for travel and commuting.
  4. Process Time
    • Spend 30 minutes on process work in order to make first moves and unblock processes and other people.
  5. Transition Meeze
    • Do a 1- to 5-minute Transition Meeze to clean as you go
    • Reset the table. Put the previous project away. Close and replace open files. Close open applications. Close browser windows
    • Check your schedule. Before you jump into your next project, relax and check your schedule and Action list.
    • Check your emails. Quickly flag all the emails that need action. Archive them all. Then go into your Flagged folder and decide which emails you can address quickly, in a few seconds or minutes, and execute those.
  6. Immersive Time
    • Set aside an hour or two for deep, immersive work.
    • Remember to take intentional breaks during those immersive sessions to restore your focus

Afternoon: Presence

  1. Respond calmly to surprises or unexpected situations if and when they occur. Adjust your schedule and task lists to accommodate these surprises.
  2. Tie up anything you’re unable to finish so it’s easy to resume later.


You start the process all over again by making a list…

⭐ Recommended Reading

You may also enjoy the following books:

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey


Have you read this book? What did you think? Share your thoughts and ideas with me!

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